Revue  

After four years, creative sector still in search of direction

National Theatre, Lagos… it’s gradually picking up. But still waits for National Troupe and private theatre groups to take advantage of its facilities

As Nigerians prepare to vote on Saturday, what are the issues that matter to the arts and culture sector? GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR, Arts and Culture Editor reports.

Regardless of who wins this week’s presidential election, the takeaway is clear: the arts and culture sector is still in search of direction. There are three parastatals without heads and for the ones with heads; there is just minimal supervision, making the head(s) tin god(s).

To begin any assessment of the arts and culture sector, you have to reckon with the extraordinary election that resulted in President Muhammadu Buhari coming in as Jonathan’s successor – a President who seemed determined to erase the Peoples Democratic Party’s legacy or is it profligacy?

That it took the president so many months to constitute the cabinet did not matter to many in the culture, creative industry, what mattered was a template that was already drawn in terms of what would lead the sector forward.

Critics cautioned not to read too much meaning into the delay, however, theorising that Buhari’s across-the-board progressive agenda would play well for the culture sector. And with a minister like Alhaji Lai Mohammed, it was assumed that a holistic development would come to play. And by the time the government hit the ground running, there was already a creative industry summit. Many others were to hold privately or otherwise.

This conclusion, however, has faced a big test in the almost four years of this administration. The results are a mixed bag.

On March 21, 2011 at the Presidential parley held at the banquet hall of the Eko Hotel & Suites in Lagos and the National Summit on Culture and Tourism, themed: Repositioning Culture and Tourism in A Diversified Economy, which held from April 27 to 29, 2016 in Abuja, almost the same position was taken as a way to lift the arts and culture sector.

The major issues emerging from these creative conferences:
• Fast-tracking the realisation of the National Endowment Fund for the Arts; and facilitating introduction of Tax Rebates as incentives for sponsors of the arts

• ensuring the formal launch and operation of the Nigeria Cultural Policy;

• giving prime place to the cultural sector in budgeting processes since it has capacity to create massive job opportunities;

• establishing infrastructure and relevant facilities to back up the mobility and diversity of the creative industry;

• ensuring a proactive enforcement of the copyright law so as to make the creative industry lucrative;

• giving artists deserved visibility in matters concerning their trades in government appointments; and

• engaging the country’s vast human resources in literature, movies, music, theatre, TV programme, visual arts, etc as tools for building Nigeria’s image abroad.

• setting up machinery for effective monitoring of all cultural agencies to ensure that they are well managed and performing to the best interest of the artistes and creative industry practitioners.

• create a positive image for the country’s national buildings, private cooperate offices and edifices, there is a compulsory need to adorn them with Nigerian artworks in order to empower arts creators; and that measures be put in place to protect the nation’s cultural sites during times of conflict by engendering communal ownership of such sites;

• stakeholders also harped on the need to imbibe the culture of documentation so as to increase availability of statistical data on the sector to aid planning. The availability of empirical data enhances funding opportunities;

• government should engage stakeholders in conducting the nationwide Mapping of creative industries whose pilot was conducted by the British Council, NBS and SONTA in 2013. This is imperative because verifiable statistics on the performance of the sector will demonstrate clearly the viability of the industry and attract more investors;

• the MOPICON and Theatre Arts Regulatory Council bills need to be harmonised into one bill which government could present to the national assembly for timely processing. We need to urgently regulate the sector and maintain high ethical standards;

• museums and indigenous languages/cultural/crafts centres should be made part of requirements for building schools across the country in order to orientate the younger generations on the country’s history and cultural values as part of their education; and

• that action on the reviewed Cultural Policy for Nigeria and the Endowment Fund for the Arts has been unnecessarily delayed. Action must therefore be taken to establish and make them functional for effective development of the sector.

In close to a decade now, what indeed has changed in the sector? The sector – home of the creative industry – remains bogged down by a “confused, selfish, and wasteful bureaucracy both at political and technocratic level; the various instruments (policies) needed to give the sector liver to contribute to job creation and growth of the economy remain unrealised; there is unhealthy, unproductive relationship among the various parastatals under the Culture Ministry — which of course, stall any meaningful progress; and an even much wider gulf exist between the public and private segments of the sector,” as a culture activist puts it.

“The men in power in the sector seem content with establishing fiefdom, and carrying deadly arms of tricks to defend same, than working for the good of the Creative Community.”

However, the minister has a contrary view. He told The Guardian, “there are certain things that are necessary to stimulate creative industry, and infrastructure is number one. For instance, how many film houses do we have in Nigeria? How many film houses have generator? What about the security? My belief is that the moment we get the infrastructure right, every other things including artistic enterprise will fall in line.”   

Bureaucracy
A look at the bureaucracy: The Federal Government spent N9,132 of taxpayers money every minute and N219, 178 everyday to service inefficiency and non-performance of Tar Ukoh-led National Troupe of Nigeria in 2018.

This is a staggering sum racked up from the current debt stock, which soared from N21.68 trillion to N22.4 trillion in June.

Since he assumed the Artistic Director of the troupe in 2017, they have not done any rehearsal, let alone performance.

In late 2018, government released the first tranche of capital votes to ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), but what has come, as a surprise is that the Troupe received 95 per cent for not doing anything in the year.

The capital vote of the agency is N85 million, while it received N80 million, which is against the service requirement.

In line with public service requirement, every parastatal is expected to receive 10 per cent of its capital vote in the first tranche.

Many are surprised that Ukor doesn’t operate from Lagos, where the troupe is based. “He has never operated from Lagos.

See, if you calculate the number of times he has been to the office, it would not be up to one month. He only comes when there is a board meeting and when there is a hearing of the case he instituted against five principal staff of National Theatre.

Since Ukor came in, the place has been a ghost yard. Though, its activities had gone down over the years due to poor funding, it had become worse under Ukor.

Piracy Still Continues
Though the Nigerian Copyright Act 2004 criminalises the infringement of intellectual property and theft, piracy still remains a booming business in Nigeria.

Stakeholders say this is largely due to the poor enactment of copyright laws, failure to prosecute offenders as well as corruption.
Still Waiting For Nigerian Film Commission Bill

The controversial Motion Picture Practitioners Council of Nigeria bill was met with criticism when it was revisited in 2016.

Alhaji Mohammed inaugurated a 28-member committee to review the bill before it is sent to the National Assembly for passage into law.

However, the Nigerian Film Corporation, proposed the Nigerian Film Commission Bill, which is currently before the National Assembly. It said it is aimed at creating an enabling environment for the growth of the motion picture industry.

Nigerian Museums And Underfunding
Although, there are about 50 government owned museum stations across the country, and a large number of private, community and palace museums in various states of the federation, fully operational or in various stages of development, their impacts are hardly felt.

A major handicap museum in Nigeria faces is poor funding. Many have said poor budgetary allocation for the sector has made its impact insignificant in terms of revenue generation.

Stakeholders say the problem with the country is not lack of museum structures, but the financial capability to make them functional.

What we should be talking about is funding to upgrade, renovate and effectively exhibit our cultural patrimony in our current holdings.

For culture workers there are many things the Commission would have done, but funding remains a challenge.

Funding for the museums come solely from the Federal Government, a recurring spending that is part of the country’s huge non-revenue yearly civil service burden on the nation’s increasing infrastructure deficit.

On the drought of professionals, stakeholders blamed the situation on limited vacancies in the Commission.

“Those trained in archaeology, at completion, complain of low salary structure and the few who are employed leave for greener pastures while some change cadres after employment.

The implication is grave but systematically; the Commission is gradually bridging the gap of this difference in professionalism.

Beyond poor funding, experts have said museums should be working in partnership with third-sector organisations to preserve and protect these heritages.

A Federal Government-Ford Foundation project aimed at remodeling of National Museum Onikan, Lagos, worth $2 million dollar was suspended by the foreign donor due to the inability of the government to provide N500 million counterpart funding.

The botched project, which included a conservatory laboratory, was launched in 2009, but suspended some years after by the Foundation.

The canceled FG-Ford Foundation laboratory would have served the entire West Africa in area of restoration and conservation of artefacts as well as general works of art, particularly of African origin.

For several years, the Ford Foundation part of the funding was available, as government ‘failed’ to provide the counterpart funding.
Thumbs Up

Pioneer status is a fiscal incentive provided under the Industrial Development (Income Tax Relief) Act, Cap I7, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 (IDA).

Eligible companies operating in designated pioneer industries and or producing pioneer products, which apply for and are granted pioneer status, are entitled to income tax holiday for up to five years – three years in the first instance, renewable for an additional maximum period of two years.

In addition to income tax holiday, pioneer companies enjoy other benefits, such as the exemption of dividends paid out of pioneer profits from withholding tax.

The federal ministry of information and culture, in 2017, created a $1 million venture capital fund to assist with better access to finance for stakeholders within the industry.

Less than two years ago, 18 months to be precise, the journey to review the 27-year-old law (Act cap N137 LFN 2004), Repeal re-enactment Bill 2017, which established the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) started at a public hearing at the Senate in Abuja.

The new bill, which seeks to replace the existing old law, was initiated to reposition the corporation to meet its set objectives and generate revenue that will boost the country’s economy.

Today, the bill is before President Muhammadu Buhari for assent.

Director General NTDC, Mr. Folorunso Coker, described the new NTDC bill as the needed legal framework upon which to grow the nation’s tourism potentials.

He said the new bill when passed into law would prompt financial framework that allows the agency to operate as a business entity capable of generating huge revenues for the economy.

Coker likened the NTDC’s legal framework to the required foundation (the financial framework inclusive) laid in the communication, banking, oil and gas sectors that resulted in their huge revenue generations.

“With the legal framework required for the financial framework to sit on, with the global best practices locked into that, you can see that the lip services that tourism was paid could not achieved much, except the legal frame work is in place. For instance, tourism operators cannot conveniently borrow from the bank because tourism is not seen as a business because there is no legal framework that supports it. Now, hopefully that will change as soon as the bill is passed into law,” he added.

“In tourism, the legal framework for the commercialisation of tourism world best practices was not there. The law was really old. The law has also been handcuffed by a Supreme Court order, so it was not a law that could allow tourism industry to generate the kind of revenues the oil and communication industries have. That is the significance,” he said.

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